Two veterans of local government with a lot in common in their approach to the job are vying to fill a seat on the Laramie City Council.
Pat Gabriel, Laramie’s vice mayor, is looking to serve another term in Ward 3 after first being elected to the seat in 2016, beating challenger Brent Roth 2,142-1,693. Before his time on council, Gabriel spent 20 years as an Albany County commissioner and six years as a member of the Albany County School District No. 1 school board.
Back after an absence for another run is former Councilman Klaus Hanson, who served for 16 years on council before deciding not to seek another term in 2016. In that time, Hanson served one term as mayor and two as vice mayor.
Gabriel said despite having “some tremendous issues in front” of council, he’s enjoyed the last three-and-a-half years and appreciates the work of city staff.
“I really feel optimistic,” he said. “There are some things we have to take care of, but we have the staff and council to get it done. … I think it’s time for another four years.”
Family matters, specifically two infant granddaughters, kept Hanson from running for a fifth consecutive term on council. With family matters now less demanding, Hanson said he was free to run, but that doesn’t mean he necessarily intended to.
“I went (to the Albany County Courthouse) on the last day (for candidates to file), and (Gabriel) was the only one who had filed, and I don’t like that,” Hanson said. “I think voters ought to have a choice.”
Hanson said he’s “perfectly happy” with Gabriel’s work on council, and would be pleased to see him serve another four years. But for the sake of giving voters a choice, Hanson will be on the ballot.
“I’m perfectly happy with whoever wins,” Hanson said with a laugh. “Whether it’s myself or Pat, we’re both very good and have experience, which is what this is all about.”
Gabriel and Hanson said funding city services is perhaps the biggest challenge they would face on council if elected, considering the economic downturn that’s resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. On the state level, a decline in mining has compounded financial issues for localities that depend on allocations of state dollars.
“It could be tough, and that’s a real concern,” Gabriel said. “Hopefully we can get through everything.”
From where Hanson sits, he’s not sure what else the city could conceivably do to save money.
“We just don’t have the finances to maintain the city as it is,” Hanson said. “On the other hand, I think citizens deserve services. We have not made very much progress in curtailing the cost of service.”
City council members took harsh criticism two weeks in a row in June from protesters against police violence and racism who are frustrated with a city government they believe is not listening to them, or moving too slowly in accommodating their demands for change in law enforcement.
On June 30, council passed a resolution that directed city staff to bring proposals for establishing a citizen oversight board, deploying mental health professionals with or in place of police officers on certain emergency calls, increasing interactions between the police and public and finding a way to increase officer training programs.
Protest organizers and several supporters have explicitly called for defunding the Laramie Police Department, something that’s not on the table for Gabriel.
Gabriel said he appreciated how many people came to express their thoughts to council, but after hearing a lengthy presentation from Laramie Police Department Chief Dale Stalder on June 23, he felt confident in the city’s law enforcement policies.
“I believe council is quite pleased with the direction of the LPD,” Gabriel said.
However, Gabriel, who voted in favor of the resolution, said he looks forward to exploring areas that could improve the police department.
Hanson said he also doesn’t see defunding police as an option, but would be interested in exploring reformative measures.
“I think police departments certainly could look at some reforms for how they deal with the public, but doing away with the police department is sort of a no-starter for me,” Hanson said.
With the spread of coronavirus still a concern in Laramie, both men are considering how to appropriately campaign in 2020.
“I don’t see any door-to-door,” Gabriel said. “It’s going to be a different campaign season for sure.”
Hanson agreed it doesn’t seem wise to go door-to-door while people are social distancing or quarantining. He said he’ll probably put yard signs up, but not until after the Aug. 18 primary.
“I have my slogan right on there, which is, ‘Dare to care,’” Hanson said.
The general election is set for Nov. 3. Early voting is taking place at the Albany County Courthouse, 525 E. Grand Ave., in the structure on the building’s east side. The open seat in Ward 3 is for a four-year term.